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Native American Traditional Tales and Legends

Native American culture is rich and diverse. Some of the stories in this list are about people who lived — or might have lived — long ago; others are about real children who you may know as a friend or neighbor today. Meet them all between the pages of the books recommended here. With our Book Finder tool, you can find many more children's books that celebrate American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian heritage.

A Man Called Raven

By: Richard Van Camp
Illustrated by: George Littlechild
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

When Chris and Toby Greyeyes find a raven in the garage, they try to trap it and hurt it with hockey sticks. To them, ravens are just a nuisance because they spread garbage all over the street — or so they think, until a mysterious man who smells like pine needles enters their lives and teaches them his story of the raven. Set in the Northwest Territories of Canada, A Man Called Raven draws from the animal legends and folklore of the Dogrib elders. — Midwest Book Review

Antelope Woman

By: Michael Lacapa
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

In a southwestern village, a resourceful young woman is intrigued by the appearance of a mysterious stranger — actually an antelope in human guise. The maiden marries him, but when they are shunned by her people, the couple chooses to return to his family and live out their lives as antelopes. Since then, the narrator explains, man has honored the antelope by never hunting or killing it. — Publishers Weekly

Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story

By: Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales, Myths and Legends
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

A long time ago, fire belonged only to the animals in the land above, not to those on the earth below. Curlew, keeper of the sky world, guarded fire and kept it from the earth. Coyote, however, devised a clever plan to steal fire, aided by Grizzly Bear, Wren, Snake, Frog, Eagle, and Beaver. Beaver Steals Fire is an ancient and powerful tale springing from the hearts and experiences of the Salish people of Montana.

Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places

By: Joseph Bruchac
Illustrated by: Thomas Locker
Genre: Fiction, Myths and Legends
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Bruchac frames 11 legends of Native American sacred places with a conversation between Little Turtle and his uncle, Old Bear, who says, "There are sacred places all around us…They are found in the East and in the North, in the South and in the West, as well as Above, Below, and the place Within."…The text is printed in stanzas, enhancing the image of prose poems.

Brave Wolf and the Thunderbird

By: Joseph Medicine Crow
Illustrated by: Linda R. Martin
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales, Myths and Legends
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

In this traditional Crow story, a great big monster climbs out of the lake and up the cliff to steal the mother Thunderbird's young chicks each spring. This year she is determined to save them, but she needs human help. So she snatches up Brave Wolf while he is out hunting and carries him to her nest, where he comes up with a plan. (Tales of the People)

Coyote and the Sky: How the Sun, Moon, and Stars Began

By: Emmett Garcia
Illustrated by: Victoria Pringle
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales, Myths and Legends
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

According to Santa Ana Pueblo legend, the animals' spirit Leader created the sun, moon, and stars by using woven yucca mats and hot coals. He selected certain animals to climb from their homes in the Third World up to the Fourth World, but Coyote was forbidden to accompany them because he was always causing trouble and stealing food from the others. Regardless of what he was told, Coyote refused to stay in the Third World. Coyote's punishment is a lesson in what happens to animals, or people, when they refuse to obey instructions.

Coyote in Love With a Star: Tales of the People

By: Marty Kreipe De Montano
Illustrated by: Tom Coffin
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

In this tale, Coyote leaves his home on a Potawatomi reservation on the Plains to find work in New York City. Once there, he falls in love with a star and leaves the Earth to dance with her. When he asks to return, she drops him. He lands in Central Park, making a big hole (the Reservoir), and his descendants howl at the night sky to scold her. — School Library Journal (Note: This story, featuring the World Trade Center, was written in 1998.)

How Chipmunk Got His Stripes

By: James Bruchac, Joseph Bruchac
Illustrated by: Ariane Dewey, Jose Aruego
Genre: Fiction, Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales, Myths and Legends
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

When Bear brags and Chipmunk teases, the results are an angry bear and a striped chipmunk. Animated language and colorful illustrations tell a Native American pourquoi story — a tale that explains why — that's perfect for sharing aloud.

How Raven Stole the Sun

By: Maria Williams
Illustrated by: Felix Vigil
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

A retelling of a Tlingit tale the author first heard from her father. Its the story of how the Raven transformed himself to bring light to what had been an earth shrouded in darkness — and explains why "why ravens are now black as smoke instead of white as snow." Part of the Abbeville "Tales of the People" series of books for young readers, published in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. 

How the Stars Fell into the Sky: A Navajo Legend

By: Jerrie Oughton
Illustrated by: Lisa Desimini
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales, Myths and Legends
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

This retelling of a Navajo folktale explains how First Woman tried to write the laws of the land using stars in the sky, only to be thwarted by the trickster Coyote.

Keepers of the Night: Native American Stories and Nocturnal Activities for Children

Keepers of the Night: Native American Stories and Nocturnal Activities for Children

By: Joseph Bruchac, Michael J. Caduto
Genre: Nonfiction, Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales, Myths and Legends
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

In Native cultures, the night is a crucial part of the Great Circle and balance in the universe. In the tradition of the best-selling Keepers of the Earth and Keepers of the Animals, this collection offers unique ideas about understanding the natural world by looking at it through a nocturnal lens. Resources and activities include legends and myths, puppet shows, stargazing guides, campfire topics, and traditional dances.

Legends of the Iroquois

By: Ray Fadden Tehanetorens
Illustrated by: John Fadden
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales, Myths and Legends
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

This collection of familiar Iroquois stories, told by elder and tribal scholar Tehanetorens, is made unique by the fact that they are also told in pictographs. There is a short essay on picture writing, and many pages of translations of the symbols themselves, including those for each of the clans of the Six Nations. The non-pictograph illustrations, by Mohawk artist Kahionhes (John Fadden), expand the meaning and power of the stories. — Oyate

Pushing up the Sky: Seven Native American Plays for Children

Pushing up the Sky: Seven Native American Plays for Children

By: Joseph Bruchac
Illustrated by: Teresa Flavin
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Bruchac adapts seven traditional tales from various tribes into plays for children. Each play is introduced with a brief tribal background, a list of characters, suggestions for props and scenery, and recommended costumes. Representing tribes from Bruchac's own Abenaki to the Cherokee, Tlingit, and Zuni, the plays are mostly pourquoi tales, explaining how mosquitos came into the world or why stars are visible at night.

The Butterfly Dance

By: Gerald Dawavendewa
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

This story chronicles one important day seen through the eyes of a young Hopi girl named Sihumana, or "Flower Maiden", who is a member of the Rabbit Clan and winningly portrayed as a rabbit. After going with her grandfather to greet the sun and bless the day, Sihumana travels with her family to another village to take part in the traditional Butterfly Dance, performed late each summer in order to bring rain to the dry lands of the Southwest. (Tales of the People)

The First Strawberries: A Cherokee Story

The First Strawberries: A Cherokee Story

By: Joseph Bruchac
Illustrated by: Ann Vojtech
Genre: Fiction, Myths and Legends
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Seeing that man is sorry after arguing with his wife, Sun sends the first strawberries to the land. The sweet fruit slows the wife down, allowing her husband to catch up and apologize. To this day, strawberries remind people to be kind to each other. Rich illustrations add interesting details to this fluid telling of a traditional legend.

The Flute Player

By: Michael Lacapa
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Through a simple story line and easy, concrete language, Lacapa offers an Apache pourquoi folktale he remembers from his youth. The tale explains that the sound of wind echoing through the canyons comes from the flute of a young brave serenading his sweetheart. When the young man goes on his first hunt without telling her, she is sure she's been forgotten; she becomes ill and dies. Returning home, the boy learns of her death, and continues to play his flute at her grave. — School Library Journal

The Giant Bear: An Inuit Folktale

By: Jose Angutinngurniq
Illustrated by: Eva Widermann
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales, Myths and Legends
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

One of the most terrifying creatures to be found in traditional Inuit stories is the nanurluk, a massive bear the size of an iceberg that lives under the sea ice. Its monstrous size and ice-covered fur make it an almost impenetrable foe. Jose Angutingunrik, a gifted storyteller and respected elder from Kugaaruk, Nunavut, brings to life a story of the great nanurluk that has been told in the Kugaaruk region for generations.

The Legend of Caribou Boy

By: John Blondin
Illustrated by: Ray McSwain
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales, Myths and Legends
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

When a little boy, traveling with his parents and grandparents, has trouble sleeping at night, he realizes that the caribou spirit is so strong in him that he can no longer remain a human. But his connection to his human family is strong also, and so he gives them the gift of the caribou when they are hungry. John Blondin shares the story as told by his father, elder George Blondin (Dene). Bilingual English/Dogrib. — Oyate

The Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale

By: Joseph Bruchac, Gayle Ross
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales, Myths and Legends
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Have you ever wondered how the Milky Way came to be? According to a Cherokee legend, it started when an old couple learned that their corn was being stolen by a Great Spirit dog. To get away, the spirit dog jumps into the sky, spilling the corn. And we can still see the results today in the night sky.

The Polar Bear Son: An Inuit Tale

The Polar Bear Son: An Inuit Tale

By: Lydia Dabcovich
Genre: Fiction, Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

An old Inuit woman takes in a polar bear cub and raises him until others in the village become jealous of the bear’s hunting prowess, threatening to kill him. The old woman sends her beloved bear away, but continues to meet him far out on the ice where her polar bear “son” gives her food to eat. The gentle telling and illustrations evoke the Arctic.

The Star People: A Lakota Story

By: S. D. Nelson
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales, Myths and Legends
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

While exploring the land around their village, Sister Girl and Young Wolf stray too far. After narrowly escaping a roaring prairie fire, the siblings find themselves lost and frightened in the dark, open land until the Star People, 'the spirits of the Old Ones who once walked on the earth,' offer comfort and guidance home. In clear, captivating language, Nelson, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, tells a stirring, original story based on Lakota legend. The swirling images of the celestial dance beautifully reflect the story's celebration and awe of the natural world. — Booklist

We Are Water Protectors

By: Carole Lindstrom
Illustrated by: Michaela Goade
Genre: Myths and Legends
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

The prophecy has come true: the black snake has come to terrorize the community. It hurts the source of life, water. This call to action is presented by in word and image by an author and illustrator, Ojibwe and Tlingit/Haida respectively, based on the Dakota Pipeline access protest in Standing Rock reservation. Lush, flowing illustrations and a narration by a young Native girl make a compelling case for protection, encouraging readers to sign a water protector pledge.

When Turtle Grew Feathers: A Tale from the Choctaw Nation

By: Tim Tingle
Illustrated by: Stacey Schuett
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Maybe you think you know the story of the big race between Rabbit and Turtle. Think again! In this story from the Choctaw People, Tim Tingle shows that it was not being slow and steady that won Turtle the big race — it was those feathers!

Wopila: A Giveaway

By: Dovie Thomason
Genre: Fairytales, Folk Tales, and Tall Tales
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

This audio collection of traditional Lakota stories is a giveaway, a way of returning the gift of the stories preserved by Lakota elders and grandparents to pass on the traditions and perspectives of their people. These stories, usually told on winter evenings, are intended to teach proper behavior or a moral lesson. Storyteller Dovie Thomason has carefully selected seven timeless Lakota stories to teach and entertain children and their parents.

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